Thursday, 25 April, 2024

Education For Progress

Dev Raj Dahal

Education aims to impart learning and cultivates reflection and experience of citizens fit for an adaptation to modern life.

It tends vital skills to integrate instinct and aspiration but subdues subversive impulse for a normative order. Teaching is applied science—putting knowledge into practice. The prudent use of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, is the function of the wisdom of art. Periodic tests evaluate the scale of learners’ ability of comprehension to form opinion. Proper educational facilities in the nation can contribute to improve the moral and social development of Nepalis and make them compatible with highest reaches of human spirit robust enough for harmonious life.

Educational system in Nepal is, however, a part of larger polity of power relations, not autonomous and professional.

Its authorities are, therefore, manned by persons of partisan affiliation and patronage. The erosion of trust on its educational institutions has inspired mass of students of well off families to hunt for high quality foreign educational institutions for study while less well off without choice vegetate within the nation.

Only the basic commitment of leadership for improving national educational quality can spawn what Garry Gutting calls “”the intellectual culture” of curiosity.

It is vital to recover the educational foundation, standards, norms and institutions of the nation and open new possibilities for keeping alive freedom of mind for animating creative pursuit of life.

To him, this intellectual culture supposes a “world of ideas” devoted to what one can “”know scientifically, understand humanistically and express artistically.”

The ancient Nepali tradition of education aimed to conquer personal vices and perfect self through higher order of knowledge with inward freedom than material comfort of self-sustained by lower order of knowledge and revitalise the creative energy of leadership to perform, institutions to uphold moral integrity to build social cohesion and societal duty to help citizens gain stable ties with the communities. The sources of its intrinsic knowledge sought to build their character, will and dedication to know the meaning of life in the cosmos beyond the current pedantry discourse of partisan intellectual fads often passing unintelligible messages to ordinary Nepalis.

Sensible educationists and political leaders often combine intrinsic and instrumental knowledge as a solution of Nepal’s distributional outreach of educational problems hoping that it can improve vocational training vital to augment their efficiency, specialisation and competence to adapt to technological condition of modernity. It enables citizens to become competitive in the national and international job markets. The intellectual culture suffers if education does not shape values, virtues, spirit and talents rather steers more to the trajectory of career path and financial return of investment.

Commercialisation of education has helped skilled citizens to become mobile able to tap the global opportunity unlocked by technology, connectivity and economy. But it has entirely reduced human dimension of life to an economic man and failed to enthuse in them the wisdom of social duty. Owing to the problems of liberal education, citizens hardly find a satisfying role in the family and social life, political parties, polity and civic institutions, a life of free persons unconstrained by necessity, survival needs and life choices but adapted to a mix of curriculum-based, evidence oriented, reflective and discovery-based learning capable of unfolding what Katha Upanishad calls “the path of self-realisation.” Only mindful knowledge can contribute to consciousness, reform statecraft, mitigate policy problems and execute social change. J. J. Rousseau, therefore, defends “negative education” where learners are provided adequate environment of liberty against government’s interference and positive incentive of resources to joyfully shape the heart, sentiment, feeling, judgment and spirit at their own pace and gain maturity.

Nepal’s welfare statism, right to education, educational policies and commitment to SDGs bear merits for sustainable progress but they lack robust preconditions. The formation of critical mass of intellectuals with the coherence of contextual and universal knowledge is necessary in Nepal to enable citizens to confront the systemic obstacles that reduce them like a cog of materialistic economic machine. This machine demands skilled and flexible persons such as errand boy, plumber, electrician, manual labourer, etc. to professional elites-engineers, accountants, manager, bankers, doctors, etc. to run it, but not conscious citizens critical for the functioning of democracy and train peasants and workers to soil their hands in productive economy.

Nepali leaders need to address the social problems originating from the marketisation of economy, personalisation and informalisation of politics and rational choice model of society that focuses on self-satisfaction, not humanistic understanding of social transformation, accountability and economic change to create good citizens. New jobs too need widening the access of citizens to scientific tools including artificial intelligence to hone their self-education outside schools, colleges and universities. Ayn Rand extols “fairness doctrine for education” who does not ignore the poor, silence the marginalised and non-conformist and burden with the anti-ecological and social consequences of indiscipline.

In Nepal, general and female literacy has increased. But education has a minor role either in production revolution or the promotion of civic values and personal responsibility among Nepalis. If education does not cultivate their critical ability to make informed and well-reasoned choices and engage in national reconstruction and peace, the rational possibility for progress cannot take off the ground. The subordination of intellectual mores, think tanks and educational life of schools, colleges and universities to partisan politics has crippled all--the former by a lack of appropriate laws and public policy framed by organic intellectuals and planners and later by the lack of political will in the modernisation of education. As a result, Nepal now suffers from the lack of proper transmission of knowledge and intelligence across gender, generations and diverse society to enable them to make vital choices of democratic life.

The rational power of liberal education has not enabled Nepalis to abolish fatalism and superstition and innovatively think beyond technical rationality of job market employers’ demands- the government, private sectors, foreign job or multi-nationals. The operation of globalised form of market economy is widening inequality within the country and narrowing the writ of the state in vital policy and decision-making matters.

In this context, citizenship can hardly be meaningful when universal laws of market weaken its democracy’s internal checks and self-correcting nature while post-national constellation of the state, market and civil society forces dissolve the rule of law into multi-directional political education and trends where each negates the other’s space - constitutional status quo of ruling Communist Party of Nepal though it prefers to set up presidential form of polity, status quo ante of Rastriya Prajatantra Party nostalgic of constitutional monarchy and Hindus state, reformist politics of Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties who prefer parliamentary regime, favours constitutional change but split on secularism, distributive coalitions of social forces unsettling the status quo for a new welfare regime and system-disruptive forces led by radical left parties from Baidya to Biplav who favour people’s democracy.

In this context, the agents of socialisation, such as families, media, civil society, political parties and educational institutions are facing hard time to incubate free societies where all social forces can share space in common, mediate policies and humanise politics in the middle path between scientific idea, nature of economy and democratic practice. Local enterprises and enlightenment flourishing in many sectors through self-help are vital to have a common process of acculturation in Nepal that can bring connectors for consolidated statehood. In Nepal, transfer of outside knowledge without contextual understanding has created problem for building national consciousness and resolving issues. Media-led discourses formed in the public places became a source of information which generated inputs for public opinion.

Civic traditions of Nepal seek to remove dualism in human thinking for the harmony of human life and activities through socialisation, mobilisation, communication, territorialisation, politicisation and moralisation and shape rationalistic civic culture.

It is beefed up by mediating structures between families in their private life and the larger educational institutions and cultural industries of national life adding to societal equilibrium bound together in the common good. Proper civic education to all Nepalis can acculturate them into constitutional behaviour and cosmopolitanism embedded in international norms, values and laws. A sense of inter-generational justice is equally important to overcome Nepali adults’ fatal lure to odious politics--consumerism, disappointment, escapism through migration and brain drain, indifference, agitation and attack politics.

Strong civic competence lurks in early childhood and adulthood consciousness and experience. It also lies in controlling one’s own present and future. Obviously, good citizenship requires knowledge and feeling about working to achieve the national goals, transcend unchecked acquisitive instinct for profit and develop civic virtues, skills, networks, trusts, a culture of affinity to the nation and the ability of society for collaborative action. Only educated and conscious Nepalis can enforce the accountability of political leaders, buttress the state’s ability to balance demand and supply, abolish inborn privileges in public life and public policy and liberate politics and education from the vices of impunity, violence and corruption of self-interest. 

Education enables them to know how to become impersonal, question belief, cultivate emotional ability and exercise choices. Expansion of human capabilities through quality education in human sciences, technical and vocational sectors, skill training and life-long learning chance in Nepal is a key to enhance their talent to optimally utilise nation’s resources and achieve progress.

This, however, needs capacity building in many domains: cognitive knowledge, common purpose in the sphere of family, community and neighbourhood, economic engagement in sustainable production, exchange and distribution and active politics in matters of voice, visibility, social inclusion and representation in institutional sphere and unity with the nationality and humanity.

Repairing the spirit of education is vital to ignite a realistic hope for the renewal of democratic politics in Nepal and prepare citizens to respond to the rapidly changing division of labour.